Episode 110: Crossness Pumping Station

In the latest episode of the London History Podcast, we delve into the fascinating and crucial chapter of London’s history surrounding the Crossness Pumping Station. The mid-19th century was a time when London grappled with the unignorable problem of sanitation, culminating in the notorious event known as the Great Stink of 1858.

We begin by exploring the life and career of Joseph Bazalgette, the visionary engineer whose ambitious and innovative sewage system still underpins London’s infrastructure today. Bazalgette’s monumental undertaking, instigated by the Great Stink, is beautifully narrated, bringing the period’s pressing health issues, political pressures, and scientific discoveries to life.

The episode then transitions to the architectural marvel of the Crossness Pumping Station, one of Bazalgette’s crowning achievements. You’ll hear about its intricate design, the advanced-for-its-time technology, and its pivotal role in transforming London’s sanitation system.

Finally, the episode concludes with the heartbreaking tale of the Princess Alice disaster. This tragic maritime accident underscored the importance of Bazalgette’s work and highlighted the stark realities of Victorian London’s public health crisis.

This episode is an engaging blend of science, history, and biography, showcasing the remarkable individuals and events that shaped London’s path towards modernity. Tune in for a comprehensive look at how London transformed from the Great Stink to a city renowned for its effective sewage system.

Host: Hazel Baker

Hazel is an active Londoner, a keen theatre-goer and qualified  CIGA London tour guide.

She has won awards for tour guiding and is proud to be involved with some great organisations. She is a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Marketors and am an honorary member of The Leaders Council.

Channel 5’s Walking Wartime Britain(Episode 3) and Yesterday Channel’s The Architecture the Railways Built (Series 3, Episode 7). Het Rampjaar 1672Afl. 2: Vijand Engeland and Arte.fr Invitation au Voyage, À Chelsea, une femme qui trompe énormément.


Ian McDiarmid

Guest: Ian McDiarmid

Ian McDiarmid qualified as a City of London tour guide in 2017 and has a particular passion for Roman and Medieval history, having in an earlier incarnation studied history at Cambridge and London universities.

He began working life in the early 80s in the City, and has since written extensively on the share and bond markets as a journalist. He loves talking finance and taking people around the narrow alleys where today’s massive trading centre was born.

When not walking and talking, Ian enjoys pottering about in the garden. His expertise is such that he often spends several hours doing this.

Hazel Baker: Welcome, dear listeners, to another fascinating episode of the London History Podcast, where we delve into the vibrant and diverse past of this great city. I am your host Hazel Baker, a qualified London tour guide and founder of londonguidedwalks.co.uk. Whether you’re a born and bred Londoner or a curious listener, join us on a journey through time as we explore the city together.

Each episode is supported by show notes, transcripts, photos, and further reading all to be found on our website. If you enjoy what we do, then you will love our guided walks and private tours that we offer throughout the year. All bookable online. At londonguidedwalks.co.uk. Subscribe now to never miss an episode, and if you enjoy the show, please leave us a review and rating to help spread the word to other history lovers.

So one of the feedbacks that we’ve had from our listeners is that they want us to visit more museums on their behalf. I convinced Ian to visit Cross Nest Pumping Station with me. Now, this was once a sewage pumping facility designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works and architect Charles Henry Driver.

Now the Crossness sewage treatment works is situated in the London borough of Beckley and marks the eastern end of the southern outfall sewer and the Ridgeway path. It was built by William Webster between 1859 and 1865, and the station was a key component of Bazalgette’s, overhaul of London’s sewage system.

The site boasts remarkable decorative cast ironwork, which Nicholas Pevsner praised as “a masterpiece of engineering, a Victorian cathedral of ironwork”. Nearby lies Erith marshes a grazing area, which includes the northern portion designated as Crossness Nature Reserve. The reserve serves as an essential habitat for a diverse array of creatures, from moths to small amphibians and water vowels.

And I think it’s safe to say, Ian, for this trip, we had a jolly good time. 

[00:02:25] Ian McDiarmid: Yes, it was fantastic. Neither of us had been before had we? and I was excited. About the prospect of going, I’d seen photographs of it, but it, yes, it was brilliant. 

[00:02:36] Hazel Baker: It might be worth continuing with my introduction there in working out what Bazel Jet was trying to do and why this was a useful solution for the South and what they had in North London.

[00:02:50] Ian McDiarmid: Yes. Sure. Bazelgette’s system is given, its. Impetus by the great stink of 1858. They’d been planning to overhaul [00:03:00] London sewage system before that. But there were lots of obstacles in the way of taking London-wide action essentially. And it’s with the great stink that. Parliament. Finally, it feels the need to give the Metropolitan Board of Works, which is the one authority with overriding powers over London, the authority to push through the sewage works and in particular it meant that the Metropolitan Board of Works didn’t have to consult with the various London investors and didn’t have to worry too much about Parliament interfering. And they’re also given money-raising powers. And as a result of this Bazelgette’s system gets.

Going and Perhaps, we should say something about the Great Stink. Should we Hazel before we get going, or what do you think? 

[00:03:46] Hazel Baker: Yes, I  think that’d be worthwhile.

[00:03:46] Ian McDiarmid: London’s sewage system was coming under crisis in the early 19th century and behind. The strain on the system is the growth in population.

So in 1750, London’s population is roughly three-quarters of a million, at which point it becomes the largest city in Europe. And then the population just goes on increasing. And by about 1800 it’s a million. By about 1850 it was 2 million. And this means a lot of. Human waste is being produced. But the crisis that develops has two particular aspects to it.

One is a crisis of the old sewage system, which is centred on cesspits. And the second part is a crisis of the ore modern sewage system, which is based on flushing, lavatories, and sewers, which are emptying into the Thames. And this description owes a lot to the book by Stephen Halladay, the Great Stink, which will.

Put in the notes, Hazel, won’t we? Yeah, we will indeed. Yeah. Good. So to begin with the Cesspits have been the backbone of the disposal of human waste for centuries, and one implication of holidays and other people’s description of the crisis in the early 19th century is the suggestion that.

At some stage in, middle Ages, the system actually worked quite well, and it could be, although it’s difficult to tell from looking at it. The way they described death. It could be that actually water-born disease was not a particularly significant factor in mortality in the Middle Ages and perhaps the early modern pill period.

There was a lot of death around, but it was caused by other things. It’s a bit difficult because the descriptions of vague and also cholera, which is the. Perhaps the best-known and largest waterborne killer only comes in 1831 to Britain, comes from India. But nevertheless, it could be significant that people aren’t dying from, don’t appear to be dying in huge numbers from waterborne diseases.

And the way the cesspits work was that under houses of a certain size, you would always have a cesspit. And by about. 1800, there are [00:06:00] 200,000 suspects for a population of about a million. So it’s huge. And in the Middle Ages, these would be emptied by the Gong Farmers. And you did a podcast on medieval toilets in London, which described this and the gong Farmers were employed to dig out the cesspits and take it out as what was later known as night soil to be used as fertilizer in the areas around London. And there are a few problems with this as the population expands. Firstly the pop, obviously the amount going into the cesspits is increasing, but perhaps.

Crucially, the absolute number of poor people is increasing and it costs money to get your suspect cleared out. Chadwick the great Victorian reformer, estimated that it costs about a shilling to get your suspect cleaned. And a lot of poor people don’t have this money. They don’t have the money to maintain the cesspits either. And so there is a kind of crisis developing in the cesspits and some of the stories of the people who go around and inspect what we call slum housing are pretty disgusting in terms of what was happening to a lot of waste. A lot of these cesspits are spilling over and how do they point to a couple of particular problems for the emptying of cesspits. In addition to these stresses from the growth of the population. One is the growth and size of the city geographically so that the night soil men have a lot further to travel out. And secondly is a collapse. There’s a collapse in the market for human excrement as a fertilizer.

And this comes about with, begins with the importation of guano which is sea bird droppings from Latin America creating a collapse, in the market. And so the cesspits are getting into a real crisis. The second element of the problem is the modern attempts to get around the problems of the cesspits.

And this is that from 1815, you are. Legally allowed to connect your household to the sewer system. So before then, in theory, the sewers weren’t for carrying human waste. They were carrying primarily rainwater away. But from 1815, houses are allowed to connect the sewers, and then later on new houses have to be constructive to the sewers and behind this is the growing popularity of flushing.

Laboratories. The design of these are improved in the late 18th century and they become very popular you can understand why flushing lavatories create a huge problem for Cesspits if they’re connected to Cesspits and there’s a little bit of indication that some of them are, they will cause the cesspits to overflow and they’re putting in a huge amount of liquid so that the stuff in the cesspit is becoming much more diluted.

But the real problem with the flushing toilets is that they’re doing their job. They’re taking huge amounts of human waste and taking it to the Thames and the combination of these two things is creating huge problems for hygiene, and huge problems in terms of smell. The cess pits are [00:09:00] leaking and snow when he does his famous work on Broad Street in Soho, which links cholera to people.

Taking their water from a particular it’s later found that there is a cesspit leaking very close to that. And then the sewers are creating problems because they’re taking all the human waste and they’re dumping it into the Thames, which creates a terrible smell. Part of the reason it creates a terrible smell is that they empty at low tide, which means that when the tide comes in, it’s washing all this stuff.

Upriver, and then it’s washing it down again. So it’s moving up and down the river. And the second problem is that at low Tide Thence left on the banks of the Thames, and it’s left there to rot. And in hot weather, as in 1858, this becomes unbearable. But the other problem is that the water companies are sourcing their water from the Thames.

In 1852, they passed the metropolis. Water Act, which forces companies to take it from beyond the title reach of the tens. But they’re given a bit of leeway. To deal with that. And in, in the meantime, it’s a huge problem. And this rotted, you got to imagine that the Thames is pretty much full of human waste.

And then, as I say, at low tide, a lot of this extra is exposed on the banks and in the summer to the heat. And this has been an ongoing problem, but in 1858 it becomes unbearable and MPs have to evacuate rooms in the House of Commons. They try holding, can cheese their noses. They try draping curtains in chloride of lime, but it doesn’t help and they’re driven from.

Parliament in effect. And this is what gives the impetus behind Battle Jet’s project. He gets the go-ahead to build his sewer system. So he, this had been in being developed for quite some time and what Battle Jet proposed was a system of sewers. So you got to imagine a kind of A bit like a tree with sort of small twigs reaching out into the houses, and then bigger twigs, bigger branches.

And then finally the sewage is taken down to the intercepting sewers. And these intercepting sewers carry the waste beyond London. And they do this by a mixture of gravity and pumping stations. The sewers are built on an incline. The waste is carried from the west to the east, but in some stages both north and south, they have to build a lower sewer to cope with the low-lying parts of London.

And the low-lying part in the south is Lambeth. And the low part lying part on the north is around Fulman Hammersmith, and then that waste needs to get pumped up to the other sewers. And on the south, the pumping stations at Deford. And then the waste carries on its way to the outskirts of London.

And the outskirts of London are Crossness on the south and barking creek on the north. And here the systems differ slightly because on the north, the main pumping station before the final leg is at Abbey wood in the east end, it’s then pumped up and then [00:12:00] it runs down on gravity all the way to the outfall where it goes into the Thames.

In the south, it’s slightly different. The waste is pumped up at Deford and it then runs down by gravity to Crossness. And on both sides what happens is that the waste is released into the river as the tide is turning at high tide. And if. The river is at that level. The waste just goes straight into the river.

But at other times, the waste goes into a reservoir and is then pumped up by the pumping engines. And this is the importance of Crossness because it’s crossness that pumps the waste up to the height of the river. And also at the site at Crossness, although we, you can’t see it though, it was pointed out to us.

Where it lay there is an enormous reservoir collecting all of this rubbish, all this human waste.  

[00:12:49] Hazel Baker: As you can hear, we had a rather interesting reason to explore Crossness and Ian. Let’s talk about what there is to see and experience there. 

[00:13:00] Ian McDiarmid: Yeah, the main attraction is the engine house.

And the engine house is done in a kind of rather elaborate Romanesque, I would say, style of architecture with round arches. Beautiful brickwork, nice detailing on that. The real splendour is inside the engine room, and the engine room contains the four. Pumping engines and Hazel, they are the, lemme get this right, the largest rotative beam engines in the world.

Is that right? That’s what I remember, yeah. Yeah. Good. So the these four huge beam steam engines and were named after members of the royal family. And they’ve restored one of them, Prince Consort, they’re restoring another Queen Victoria. And then on the other side of the engine house, you can see the two unrestored ones.

Albert Edward, who was the Prince of Wales and. Alexandra, his wife. And in the middle of, between these four engines is the octagon. When I went into the octagon, Hazel, I looked up and they appeared to me to be golden pears around the column, but you explained to me that you didn’t think that they.

They were pears. What were they? 

Crossness Pumping Station. Photo by Hazel Baker

[00:14:21] Hazel Baker: It was all good fun, wasn’t it? In there. It was really quite astounding. The detail there. And what they have been doing is they’ve been looking at the ironwork and they’ve also been repainting it as well. So some of the decoration is a lot more obvious now than when it was just rusting away. Yeah. So these golden balls, they did look like little testes hanging down. And they were or believed to be figs and they’re also, there are fig leaves there as well. So that kind of supports that motion. And the figs were in gold and the fig leaves were in green.[00:15:00] But they weren’t the only botanical decoration in the octagonal ironworks either. So there were some white flowers and they were quite beautiful as well. And they were believed to be blackberry flowers and dogwood flowers. And when you have a little look at the detail, you’ve got the figs and the fig leaves.

There are also sennapod seeds, which are natural laxatives, and then with the blackberry flowers and the dogwood flowers they’re antidiarrheals, so they keep you bound. I think the Victorians had a wonderful sense of humour and in incorporating that into the design as well. I think that’s brilliant. Yeah, 

[00:15:39] Ian McDiarmid: it’s extraordinary, isn’t it? And the kind of almost celebration of what they’re building

So when you go round Hazel, one of the things that’s very interesting that we’ve already alluded to is that some of it’s restored and some of it isn’t. And we both liked the contrast. And also I like looking at the unrestored parts cuz I, it’s far as my imagination that you’re looking at seeing something quite derelict, but where they have restored, it’s absolutely splendid. 

And what I wanted to ask you was how accurate. Are the colours, do you think 

[00:16:12] Hazel Baker: so? Yeah, so that is a good one. If you think about it here we’ve got a similar combination of colours outside Charing cross station, red the green, and cream. But what they did for the restoration was that they took flakes of the paint away from the original paintwork, and they were then analyzed and then they specified the equivalent.

Gloss colours which we would use today. The Victorians didn’t have gloss paint so they had matt paint and then they would be glossed over with a varnish to get that shiny effect. But the colours are true.

[00:16:48] Ian McDiarmid: So I’ve mentioned that the steam engines were named after leading members of royalty. When it opened in 1865, it was opened by. The Prince of Wales. The other thing that strikes you about the interior, where they restored it, is just how colourful it isn’t it?

I noted down that the prevalent colours were dark red, scarlet cream, white and gold. Do you agree with that, Hazel? Yeah. Did you get 

[00:17:13] Hazel Baker: the green in there? 

[00:17:14] Ian McDiarmid: Oh no, I don’t think. Yes, I think I’ve, I left out the most important one of the lot. And it is really colourful and it’s like a celebration and then as you were saying people are describing it as being so you have all these, all of these.

Things coming together. The sort of celebration of the laxatives and the binders the colour, the association with the royal family, these huge engines which are an absolute triumphs of technology. And it should also perhaps add at this point that the engine room structurally has to be enormously strong to support these things.

And they’re all A celebration of what they’re doing, aren’t they? And I think I mentioned to you that we tend to think of the Victorians as being rather buttoned up and straight lace. But actually in [00:18:00] terms of dealing with this thing about sewage they seem to be a lot less restrained and restricted than we are because this is obviously a topic that people don’t.

Talk about, don’t like to talk about now. One of the great things about sewage is that it’s invisible and it’s things people prefer not to be reminded of it. And yet, here are the Victorians Absolutely. Celebrating it. And just saying that reminds me of one, one point perhaps to make that the celebration in the sewage works is, Presumably because these are the one visible parts of it.

So you’ve got this enormously expensive system. The whole thing, Bazalgette system costs four and a half million pounds, in total. Hugely expensive. And the one visible bits are these pumping stations. But it’s curious really, because, you wouldn’t have people necessarily going around there okay?

They have these big opening ceremonies, but they made them cathedral-like architecture For, almost for the sheer joy of it really. 

[00:19:00] Hazel Baker: One thing that struck me was the size of everything as well. The scale, it’s not all on one level and you’re able to go all the way up to see the beams as well.

And I did see the ones that hadn’t been restored yet. It was nice to see the journey that they’re going on. They’ve done a huge amount of work, but there’s so much to do as well. It’s worth walking around. Obviously wearing flat shoes is worthwhile because of the holes in the floor.

And also you’re going up and down these wonderful staircases with the copper. Handles and I was thinking this, it looks really familiar, this staircase, what’s going on? And I realized that it was actually used in filming for guy Rich’s Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. That’s where I’ve seen it before. And so I was thinking where else has it been used in, and of course, Daniel Radcliffe and James McEvoy were filming there for Frankenstein. In 2015. So we’ve seen it and listeners are gonna know that they’re that they’ve actually been there before they’ve seen it themselves.

It’s just it’s not necessarily a pumping station as it really is. Yeah, it’s, it is great to be able to see it up. Close. It’s worth mentioning as well, just not just with the decoration and that, but the whole experience there. First of all, getting on a train to go to the, and then I don’t mean a normal tree.

Join everybody once you get there. You can get there by bus or we managed to, we were lucky enough to drive. And then when you do get there, there is the cutest, am I allowed to say cute? The wonderful little train from the 1980s and they’ve called it Bazalgette. And you’re able to jump on in the carriage and then get to the pumping station that way.

And I do love how it’s all just incorporated. 

[00:20:52] Ian McDiarmid: And Hazel, you were mentioned that you advised people to wear flat shoes when you’re going around the floor itself is quite interesting. In [00:21:00] the engine room, isn’t it? On the floor, you walk around to see the beams in the upper part of the engines.

[00:21:05] Hazel Baker: Yeah I was mesmerised by this when they’re unpainted, but even when they’re painted, it’s just adding this psychedelic 3D effect as well. So you had within the holes of the floor. It’s hard to describe really, but they were semicircular loops creating these holes. And in the holes were painted red and on the top gold, which just looks really wonderful.

From a distance, it looked like some sort of rug. It wasn’t until you get up close or looked down at your feet that you realize that you are walking on a whole new floor, as it were. And yeah these, I remember reading that dis. Cast iron floor. And the stairways of the pumping station are very similar to those at the pumping station at Wick in Nottinghamshire.

And that was opened in 1884, and both of those original contracts were by James Watt & Co.. 

[00:21:57] Ian McDiarmid: I imagine that the holes in the floor are partly to aid ventilation, and I think that’s part of the function of the. Octagon itself because you’ve gotta imagine the huge amounts of heat given off by these by these engines.

[00:22:12] Hazel Baker: Yeah, I’ll, I’d assume so in that sense, in terms of anything with movement is gonna take create friction and therefore generate some sort of heat. But the octagon’s main function was simply to allow light into what would’ve been a relatively dark area. Got a huge building and yes, you’ve got windows around the edge, but how are you gonna light the middle of the building?

 Now you were mentioning before I the outfalls and they were supposed to be on the outside of London, but with the growth of London, that wasn’t true. Very 

[00:22:45] Ian McDiarmid: quickly, wasn’t it? Yeah. Battle Jet had designed his system to cope with the expansion of London, but not with the speed with London, that London actually expanded and within 20 years there were problems.

As you were saying the idea of the Outfalls is that the sewage goes into the Thames. Beyond London in a very sparse, populated area. But within 20 years, these areas have become populated and there were worries about the sewage sitting in the river. It’s supposed to go out with the tide into the North Sea, but it didn’t always work that well.

And in particular, in 1878, there was a really major accent on the Thames when. The Princess Alice which was carrying a large number of passengers sank and about 650 people died. And when they came to investigate it, the conclusion was that a lot of the bodies had. Floated to the surface much quicker than they would normally.

The Princess Alice was struck in a collision with another vessel, and the conclusion was that a lot of these deaths because the bodies had floated up so quickly were down to poisoning through the people ingesting all the[00:24:00] sewage sitting in the river. And this was what, perhaps a bit like the equivalent of the Great Stink earlier on, gave the impetus to actually do something about the sewage.

Towards the end of the 19th century in the 1880s, they begin separating out the liquid from the solid human waste. And the liquid waste is treated chemically and then pumped into the river. And the solid waste is moved as sludge and it’s put in vessels and then taken out to the North Sea to be dumped.

And this was what happened to London. Solid waste, right up until. The 1990s. One other feature of the battle jet sewers, which became a problem later on, is that they deal with both human waste and rainwater. And indeed the system relies on rainwater to carry the sewage to flush it down via gravity.

This was always a slight problem in that when rainfall was heavy, the stuff in the pipes would back up and could in theory go all the way back up to the households. And so, what would happen is that during periods of heavy rainfall, the sewage would be allowed to go directly into the Thames.

And this has been happening more and more frequently in modern times as London’s population has grown. But also the other problem is that a lot more of London has been built up solid standing. One aspect of this is people building on their front gardens to asphalt them over, to use them as car parking spaces.

And there’s a problem with this, that there’s less soil to absorb the rain. There are fewer plants to absorb the rain, and therefore these occurrences of raw sewage going into the Thames are becoming very regular or have been becoming very regular. And I often think about this when you, when I go along the Thames’ path, you often see people I’ve always been a bit too shy to actually ask them if they know what is actually going into the Thames. Now, the fact that they are fishing there at all reflects the fact that the Thames is a lot cleaner than it used to be. Even with all these problems.

It’s one of the cleanest rivers that kind of serves an inverted com as a huge city. But nevertheless, it’s pretty unpleasant. This problem is being tackled by the kind of successor to Bazalgette. Which is the Thames Tideway Project, which is building a huge system of tunnels very deep under the Thames to take away the excess rainwater.

So Hazel this Crossness pumping station isn’t open all the time, is it? So could you describe how you actually arrange a visit there? 

[00:26:30] Hazel Baker: Yeah, so they have open days which is how we manage to get around. And they don’t have tour guides or anything, but they do have some really fantastic volunteers.

So to get there it’s about, one point. Three, five miles or something like that from Abbey Wood Station, depending on the route that you take. And Abbey Wood is obviously the Elizabeth line, so that’s nice and easy. 

 Not only have you got the Elizabeth line, but you’ve also got the Southeastern network. So that’s from [00:27:00] Charing Cross Waterloo and London Bridge as well. And then you can just walk or cycle the rest of the way. And if you wanna do it by car, then you can get a little bit closer and they have an overflow car park for you to visit.

But then even if you get there, that’s when you can get onto the Bazalgette engine and choo chew your way to the pumping station, which, as you can see, it was a particular highlight of mine. 

[00:27:26] Ian McDiarmid: Hazel, you saying that it’s not always being open puts me in mind of the fact that the other pumping station is Abbey Mills in the East End.

 Abbey Mills is the site of the other pumping station, and that one is, Harder to visit than Crossness. It’s open less frequently. The fact that Crossness is open at all. We owe to the crossness engines trust.

But. Saying, this reminds me of one other crucial thing about Crossness is that the four engines are still there. And as we mentioned earlier on, they are the largest surviving rotative Beam engines in the world, and they were the largest engines at the time of their construction. And this is significant because the ones in the East end are no longer there, unfortunately.

Crossness Pumping Station (internal) | Photo by Hazel Baker

And Crossness engines owe their survival to their size. Victorian steam engines disappear or have disappeared quite frequently across the country because they were removed for scrap. The ones that Crossness were simply too big for this to be commercially viable. And so they’re still there, unlike at Abby Mills where they’ve been replaced, unfortunately.

[00:28:39] Hazel Baker: I’d like to also take a little moment to talk about the bricks as I got into a very nice conversation with one of the volunteers there who has done quite a bit of work there over the years. The brickwork was beautiful inside and out. Would you agree, Ian? Yes. 

[00:28:55] Ian McDiarmid: And it’s correct me if I’m wrong Hazel, but obviously it’s largely red brick, but there’s also Stuff.

Your white bricks, is that right? 

[00:29:03] Hazel Baker: Suffolk whites, that’s where they’re they came from the Sudbury area and they were extensively used around the mid 19th century London anyway, and they were the fashionable bricks of the day. And you can see with the shape of the bricks, they’ve got a really nice, sharp, clean edge.

 The company that made them is also still in business now, and they’ve got the original moulds, which I think is rather brilliant. 

[00:29:27] Ian McDiarmid: What the original moulds that we used at Crossness? Yep. Cool. 

[00:29:32] Hazel Baker: And then the decorative element, so the red-bricked arches they’re called red rubbers. And they were cut and rubbed to shape in order to fit the form of the arches.

And so that means that very little mortar was required in order to fit them in shape. Cuz you, of course, the bricks are shaped to the reshape required. And when you have a look at them, they, it looks really like you’ve got a white. Tip [00:30:00] pen drawing lines on the red bricks. It is really remarkable that there’s only just a tiny bit of mortar in between.

Now, when you’re outside and you’re looking at it for the first time. The building is a little bit grubby, you got pollution. It is over 150 years old. But then there have been some new works at the entrance of the building that you have a little look at, and, Suffolk whites have been reclaimed from the building and put outside to create this little wall and they really are white against this red and they’re absolutely stunning. and it looks psychedelic.

I really enjoyed seeing them and also the size of everything. 

[00:30:39] Ian McDiarmid: But looking at these modern additions to the outside, you can recreate in your mind how spent the original would’ve looked. Yes. 

[00:30:49] Hazel Baker: , exactly. And there were, they were using companies from all over the place.

So the decorative tiles under the shutter windows, for example. They were manufactured by moron Co at Broley in sup. And then they were restored in 2006 by replacement tiles from Burslem in Stoke and Trent. So you’ve got all of this involvement to create something that’s really quite remarkable and very unique, especially on the scale that we’re talking about as well.

And then I liked to see the original door as well because that’s Portland Stone. And it’s fine. Portland stone is high-grade because you’ve got wonderful carvings on it as well. Are 

[00:31:33] Ian McDiarmid: Are you talking about the original entrance? 

[00:31:36] Hazel Baker: The original entrance before you had the extension?

[00:31:39] Ian McDiarmid: Yeah. Perhaps we should explain that. They built an extension at the end of the 19th century when they put in some more modern steam engines too. Partially replace the older ones. And you can half go out onto ki onto a kind of balcony into the empty room where these engines once stood.

And you can look back at the doorway. And the thing I remember is Hazel is the little Randall with the coat of arms at the top of all the various I think they were the authorities connected with Crossness. So they’ve got the city coat of arms and Kent County coat of arms. 

[00:32:14] Hazel Baker: Yeah. And Colchester, the Royal Cult Coat of Arms, the City of London, Gilford, and Middlesex.

All right. 

[00:32:21] Ian McDiarmid: Good. And, one other thing to, say about this, is that some of the buildings haven’t survived, but they’ve got interesting information on them. So there was a big campanile a big tower that, that’s no longer there. That was to vent the smoke from the engines.

And also there was a model workers’ village, which I found very interesting. So this was built, mentioned this huge reservoir, which is the. The volunteers pointed out where the reservoir was and it was underneath this huge field of solar panels. On that field, on top of the reservoir. They built a kind of model, small [00:33:00] workers’ village, and there was quite a lot of information about the workers, and it was.

Designed in a kind of very idealistic way, and the write-ups about it were quite positive in terms of describing the community spirit. So you had workers’ cottages on either side of this green covering the reservoir. And the writeup described it, described the communal activities that they had, like playing crickets.

However, I can imagine that it was quite claustrophobic. And also it was a t-to site, which I wouldn’t necessarily have appreciated myself. But that was one of the things that working on the sewage at the sewage plant, you needed to have people there on hand all the time. And because it was.

Originally on the outskirts of London or just beyond London. It would’ve been quite a remote settlement, I thought. 

[00:33:48] Hazel Baker: Yes. And also quite exposed to the elements since it’s all on Erith marshes. 

[00:33:53] Ian McDiarmid: Yeah. Anyway, it was very interesting, wasn’t it, Hazel? And I think we’d both recommend that people go onto the website and look up.

Open days. 

[00:34:03] Hazel Baker: Yes. So they can do that by visiting cross nest.org.uk. So you can do that. Obviously, they do group bookings for if you’re 40 or more as well. But the thing I would like to add to this is that it’s not just looking at the pumping station. They’ve got very good easy-to-understand exhibition space and that tells you about the Great Stink and about some of the engines’ examples.

 And we have so many blog posts as well about the Victorian era in London, and you can find all of this information on walks and blog posts on our website, londonguidedwalks.co.uk/history/victorian.

That’s all for now. Until next time.


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